Six Sigma and more:
Six Sigma and “the other:” compassion in the workplace
Last fall, I participated in an international conference in Kalamazoo, MI, entitled “Engaging the Other: The Power of Compassion.” As you can imagine, the conference consisted of themes about connections, war, peace, torture, terrorism, trust, fear, ignorance of others, diversity, religion, spirituality, goodness, inclusion, and, yes, compassion. The common denominator among all the people presenting these themes is that they all, in their own ways, attempt to bring people closer together.
I have heard people say, “Why bother?” After all, “America, the strongest country in the world, was built on a culture of individualism…We can always raise ourselves up by our own bootstraps…Nobody is poor in this state unless they want to be…The free market provides a level playing field…After all, we are inherently a tribal species and tribes always have fought.” Maybe, but I find the philosophy behind this conference more compelling.
Archbishop Elias Chacour of the Melkite Catholic Church in Israel, a Nobel Prize nominee for his efforts of promoting friendship between Arabs and Jews in Israel and Palestine, brought us a simple alternative. “We are all born babies…of stardust…all made of the same atoms.”
Another speaker, John Vasconcellos, reminded us of a description by the famous psychologist, Carl Rogers, “We human beings are innately inclined toward becoming life-affirming and constructive, responsible and trustworthy-provided each of us experiences encouragement and nurturance within our life.”
Another common alternate theme in the conference was the description of our nature as homo sapiens that comes from the widely-researched developmental paths that we tend to pursue. Although these paths are all different, there seems to be a common theme of movement toward universal embrace of others. Psychologist Carol Gilligan’s research, for example, published in her 1982 book, In a Different Voice (Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA: 1993), describes a universal pathway of women’s moral development, based on what she calls “levels of care.” These levels include:
- care for self , in which young girls and oftentimes women with little resources, think and act in ‘selfish’ ways, making choices that ensure their own survival
- care for others , in which women make choices and act in ways that include the needs of others in addition to their own, especially those closest to them
- care for all , in which a synergy happens when a woman’s thoughts and actions integrate self-care, care for others closest to her, and the common good
Research indicates that we all follow general pathways of development, but may get stopped at lower levels because of trauma, culture, or local environmental conditions. So we can all get to a level of universal care if the impediments to our natural development are rolled away. We generally have the capability to show compassion for everyone even though we all too often act as though it were not true.
So what does all this tell us about Six Sigma? I find that many of us treat Six Sigma stakeholders as “the other,” a person somehow not worthy of our best intentions…a person somehow separate from and beneath our superficial view of ourselves. Our behaviors build walls when we would be better off building bridges.
We frequently treat our employees as if they are the problem when organizational performance falls below our desires. We don’t ask what they need to do their job. We sometimes deny it even when they ask. We create win-lose incentive systems that either extrinsically or intrinsically punish and alienate the losers. We treat them as if their skills, intelligence, and intentions are not up to the task. And we wonder why we have trouble finding good employees as they leave our workplace.
We frequently demand price reduction of our suppliers without exploring with them the implications of these reductions. We reject products and services without adequate explanations so that they can improve their systems. We pit our suppliers against one another without fully explaining to them the rules of the game. We frequently do not even treat them with the courtesy we would treat any other human being. And we wonder why it is so difficult to find good suppliers.
We frequently spy on our competitors in order to get an advantage in the marketplace. We temporarily cut prices in order to force them out of business. We lobby for laws and regulations to do the same. We discard any opportunities to collaborate or cooperate with our competitors to serve the overall best interests of our common customers. And we wonder why our competitors don’t play fair and our customers find other products and services to meet their needs.
We frequently have no knowledge of the needs and expectations of our customers. We send out questionnaires without asking the right questions. We use our market research and customer feedback to make ourselves look good rather than improving ourselves. We spend millions, maybe billions on advertising without asking if it influences our customers’ behavior. We ignore or even chastise our customers for expecting more than we provide. And we wonder why our customer loyalty is slipping.
Now, I know that we don’t all do these things but I also know that many of us do. So here’s the deal. It’s pretty simple and, as I am reminded by the recent, sudden loss of my wife, Carole’s mom, Doris Bly, pretty urgent. Start treating everyone as if they are part of us, instead of “the other.” I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised. As always, I welcome your input and questions. I’m at email@example.com
Copyright 2006 PQ Systems.
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